February 01, 2016

The Mediated Self Project Symposium

Our IATL supported Mediated Self Project module, that we’ve blogged about before here and here has begun in earnest this term, and SaturdayStudents & Speakers in our afternoon Round Table discussionsaw the first of our symposia. One rationale for the module is to provide a place to explore and reflect on the place of self-mediation in professional life, either in transforming how we work, especially in the cultural, creative and media industries, or producing new forms of work entirely. With this in mind we invited four people whose working lives we thought might exemplify these changes to reflect on their experiences with our students.

Our speakers were Callum Goodwilliam, a facilitator at Squared Onlineand Warwick graduate, Marie Haycocks of Certanovo, life-coach and image consultant, Jon Bounds a writer and Pete Ashton an artist. We asked students to prepare for the day by researching our speakers through their online presences, and asked speakers to respond to our themes in explaining their own career trajectories. We followed this with a roundtable discussion at which students were able to ask questions, both practical and general, in relation to their own work on producing a Mediated Self portfolio.

A number of interesting themes emerged from the day for me – but I thought I’d highlight three. Firstly the discussion confirmed, gladly given our premise, that working on or managing the self is an important component of contemporary working life. The very existence of a market for Marie’s services, and indeed the accompanying forms of accreditation and qualification which underpin her practice are a strong indication of this. Online and offline forms of self-management and representation, though, also reveal some interesting tensions, especially in relation to the development of the technologies of mediation. More than one of our speakers referred to their own changing perspectives on and experiences of self-mediation as their appreciation of the implications of the online context grew. Callum bravely shared early Facebook photos, and early attempts at blogging, both of which he suggested he might prefer to be no longer accessible. Jon by contrast, and in opposition to the story of an internet that never forgets, had some early published work – pioneering work in relation to the short history of blogging - that was no longer visible. Both stories were perhaps a timely reminder that these forms of self-mediation are often achieved on terms over which we have little control. It was a theme re-iterated by Pete’s rules of self-mediation, which included knowing what the platforms we use are getting from us as we use them. Awareness of this perhaps helps rebalance the power dynamics between our abilities to mediate ourselves through technology and the possibility of being mediated by that technology. We might assume that these skills are tacit, especially amongst young people, and as the infrastructure of the internet and social media become more embedded into everyday life we might think less about them, but they can and perhaps should be learned.

A second theme related to the notion of being ‘authentic’ or ‘true’ to oneself. While ‘being oneself’ is the assumed path to various forms of success in contemporary life, it seemed easier to say than do. Marie, whose progression to her current role was strongly informed by her family and personal history wrestled with having different selves in personal and professional contexts, at least inasmuch as these were represented in talking about her business. Her ‘brand values’ and her ‘personal values’ became blurred, in a context in which reflections on her own experiences fed directly into the service she provided. Jon, by contrast, described using a variety of online selves in his various professional roles –some personal, some political and some reflecting the playful subversive potentials of digital cultures. He was careful and disciplined in policing the boundaries between them, but this also led to some difficult decisions about the appropriate forum for some outputs of his creative work. The possibility of a diffuse and diverse identity emcompassing the complexity of human experience was one of the utopian ideals of the early internet cultures. The political ambiguities of the more contemporary drive towards a single, coherent self, exemplified by Mark Zuckerberg’s assertions about integrity and identity, perhaps puts even more importance on the decisions we make about how we represent ourselves online and through what platforms we choose to do that work.

Finally, Pete described the importance of being driven by our own interests and enthusiasms in making a distinctive mediated self, and also described his own trajectory towards a situation of ‘not caring’ what people thought of his work, beyond an aspiration that they thought it interesting and worthwhile in the chaotic world of the web and its reputation economy . His imperative for us to 'create our own metrics' for success, rather than be driven by ‘likes’ or ‘views’ or ‘shares’ might well become a motto for our module. All the speakers seem to espouse the need to 'be the/your message' in a way that moves us from McLuhan's the 'media is the message' to 'self mediation is the message'. We will be exploring these ideas with our students for the rest of the module and we hope to have challenged them into thinking about the mediated self as NOT simply self-branding or personal PR or self-marketing. It is far more than that and touches on a variety of value systems. Like the rest of day, it should, provide some food for thought and inspiration for our students as they explore their own forms of mediation.

Many thanks to the speakers and students for their contributions – and to the staff at the Teaching Grid for allowing us to use their space on a Saturday.

September 16, 2015

Please like this page

Today’s news that Facebook has begun the process of developing a ‘dislike’ button resonates with some of the issues I reflect on in my new book on Understanding Cultural Taste. The book is an exploration of the relations between taste and social and cultural life and it includes a chapter on Digitalizing Taste, in which I speculate on the particular significance of taste to online cultures, including those of social networks such as Facebook.Facebook

‘Liking’ and ‘disliking’ has become something of a taken-for-granted dimension of social networks, for both users and the networks themselves. They are central to the very creation of a profile – in which identifying and sharing the music, films, books or TV that we like, as much as our occupation, our education, or our relationship status, is tacitly understood as a kind of performance of the type of person we are or, perhaps, the type of person we would like to appear to be. The display of such tastes – and indeed the possibility of judgment of the tastes of others amongst our ‘friends’- becomes part of the pleasure of contemporary cultural consumption as we identify and connect with common communities of interest, or distance ourselves from others. There are also the pleasures of gaining likes for photos we’ve taken, or for links to interesting stories or videos which we’ve ‘shared’, or for more general bon mots, to get instantly reassuring and re-inforcing feedback from our networks that we are appropriately cool, witty, radical or affected by and engaged in current events. Equally there are the significant feelings of disquiet and insecurity when expected likes do not materialise. Such anxieties perhaps reflect the success of social networks in constructing themselves as microcosms of social life more generally.

What might be more uniquely contemporary is that, for the networks themselves, our ‘likes’ are not just descriptions of our characteristics and interests but are crucial to their business models. The spread of the ‘like button’ across the web (there’s one in the corner of this page. Please click it!) indicates the extent to which liking has become part of its very infrastructure. The lists of things we like and the clicks on pages and posts with which we interact through liking are not just positive feedback or commentary – they are also data which feed into the complex construction of individual and collective users as products to be sold on to advertisers. They also feed into the algorithmic construction of news feeds and searches, in which data about the kinds of things we have ‘liked’ in the past is used to probabilistically predict the kinds of things we might be interested in in the future.

It is this latter aspect – crucial to what Gerlitz and Helmond describe as ‘the like economy’ – which has been at the heart of the controversy over whether Facebook should have a dislike button at all. Facebook’s historical reluctance to include such a button, they argue, reveals the crudity of ‘liking’ as a tool to express the range of sentiments (agreement, enthusiasm, even sarcasm) which users might wish to share in social networks. It also reflects the construction of such networks as spaces where the default setting, as it were, is to ‘like, enjoy or recommend as opposed to discuss or critique’ (Gerlitz and Helmond, 2013: 1358). Dislikes are as important to the performance of taste in relation to identity, we might speculate, but harder to monetize.

It is interesting to hear the parameters which Mark Zuckerberg has placed around the proposed dislike button this morning – that the aim is to allow for the expression of empathy or solidarity even when ‘every moment isn’t good’. These seem laudable enough ambitions – but raise interesting questions about the ways in which data that will inevitably be gathered about dislikes can and should be put to use. What does Facebook get out of the effort to develop this innovation? As interesting for me is the extent to which this move fits with the ambition of organisations like Facebook to shape and alter social norms in the digital or machine age. As I suggest in my book, Facebook doesn’t really know what we like. Liking is a complex process involving, amongst other things, sensory, aesthetic and moral forms of judgment that emerge from a range of life experiences. Facebook knows what we click on. Its ambition might be to encourage or train its users such that the latter more frequently equates with the former but – thankfully in my view- it has a long way to go to achieve that.

July 22, 2015

Shanghai City Lab Second Cultural Economy Summer School

The Second Shanghai City Lab (SCL) Cultural Economy International Summer School was held at the School of Media and Design, Shanghai Jaio Tong University, between 3rd and 17th of July 2015. It was a full two weeks (13 days) full time with lectures, visiting talks, case studies, field trips and social events. This year 55 students attended; many of these were masters students but there were also PhD and even young faculty scholars. Students had come as far as Stanford and Oxford. Altogether, the 2015 summer school featured 16 formal lectures by nine faculty members, visits to 13 different Shanghai cultural sites, six visiting professionals talking about their industries in the city, three days of group work (supervised urban research in Shanghai), and a final presentation day. The photo below was take on a site visit to the creative cluster M50 -- it doesn't include everyone.


This year’s theme was “Work in the Cultural Economy”. We began with the questions -- What is it to work in the cultural economy? What kind of labour is involved, and what kind of skills are required? What kind of career strategies are needed? This was framed by Bourdieu's theory of the field of cultural production and the 'trajectory' cultural producers within it. These questions continued throughout the various lectures, discussions and site visits. And mostly because we had some great visiting professionals, as well as visiting scholars, students were able to find out what working in the creative field like in Shanghai.

Lectures included:

Justin O’Connor (Monash University) on cultural economy, cultural field and cultural work.

Jonathan Vickery (Univeristy of Warwick) on cultural policy, cultural economy and cities.

Gu Xin (Monash University) on the field of Chinese contemporary art, creative city and creative clusters.

Scott Brook (University of Canberra) on Bourdieu, applied field theory, the literary field and cultural work in Australia.

Jen Webb (University of Canberra) on graduate careers and creativity.

Shan Shilian (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) on China’s cultural policy.

Li Kanghua (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) on Shanghai’s cultural economy and policy contexts.

Deng Lin (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) on cultural economy field research.


[This picture above was our seminar in a Maker space in Shanghai]. Our visiting professionals included Professor Wang Hong Tu of China’s first MFA program at Fudan University – talking about Shanghai’s literary field and the life young creatives can expect. Lisa Movias, now head of the China bureau of the Art Newspaper, talked to us about Shanghai’s emerging cultural milieu and the new venues in the city. Social theatre pioneer, Zhao Chuan, told us about experimental Chinese contemporary art in Shanghai and particularly his Grassroot Stage organization. Advertising guru Peter Soh gave us an insight into the communications media industries in the city, and Linda Lin similarly opened up the animation industry, with particular reference to its global influences.


Our site visits this year – both tutor-led visits, with talks, and the students own group research – included the Rockbund Art Museum; The Shanghai Bund; the Old Town; the old EXPO 2010 site – particularly the China Art Museum and the Power Station of Art.

We paid particular attention to two urban phenomenon – first, the new West Bund Cultural Corridor (including the Long Museum, Yuz Museum, K11 art space, Photography Museum, and the public art and design of this expanse of land); and second, the Creative Clusters, particularly Creative Warehouse, Tianzifang, South Suzhou River, M50. We also had a day discussing Maker and Hacker culture, with site visits to pioneer David Li’s space in south Shanghai, and new enterprise DF Robot, and their community space at the giant technology enterprise park in Pudong.

The two weeks ended with two days of student group research in the city, where each student chose a site and topic for investigation. Research methods could be experimental – using film and photography – or standard methods, like interviews, observation, compiling data. On the last day – the Friday – we heard all eight presentations, after which feedback was given, and then finally, all students received a signed and stamped certificate for successfully completing the Summer School.

For more pictures, see my Flickr site:


Summer module Event


Last term’s summer ‘practice’ module – Culture and Social Innovation – saw a student group of eight generate a two day micro-festival. The site for this event was the NHS-City Council Mental Health and well-being centre, the POD, (situated in Coventry city centre). This site was not just a venue for a series of performances – the POD was a partner in delivering something that attracted over 100 people.It was exhausting (the run-up to the event involved weeks of non-stop work).

The brand concept for the event was the idea of student Emilia Moniszko – who is now developing KALEJDOSKOP as an independent arts platform. And to quote from its strategy document:

KALEJDOSKOP is interdisciplinary, and aims to combine some of the most dynamic aspects of contemporary art, the creative industries and social enterprises. It is a platform and will provide a space for launching new projects, events and initiatives. As an organisation, its priority will be production, engagement and generating value. As a series of events, its priority will be diversity, democracy, participation, and the ‘right to the city’. KALEJDOSKOP, fully developed, will act as agent, entrepreneur, creative producer, cultural management, researcher, consultant and advocate. It will both act on its own initiative, and in partnership.

The first KALEJDOSKOP event at Coventry POD lasted from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening – and whose dynamic program included the following: [SEE the Facebook page for more]



Friday Evening:
> Seven performances including: Poetry, South Asian Poetry, Rap, Fusion of Punk and Folk.
> An open discussion with a panel consisting of local small theatre director, artist, film-maker and a chair of BOPA.
> A short film screening of a film on Coventry’s history and cultural evolution.


> An alternative tour of Coventry – walking the city’ – exploring urban memory, contested narratives of the city, commerce and anti-commerce, and the relation between culture and the social landscape.
> Food and drink buffet, representing the City’s cultural diversity
> A sonic improvisation with ‘Collective // Pod’ and members of the audience, against a screening of films created by West Midlands based filmmakers.

This event has generated a dialogue, from which the POD has invited KALEJDOSKOP to produce a Friday night special event once a quarter (three months), for a year. This will launch Emilia's career as a cultural entrepreneur once she has completed her MA (in October).


Spillover again…

I have blogged in the past about an emerging European research project on which I am a partner, and which in part grew out of some work I did with the European Centre for Creative Economy in Dortmund in 2012-13. The last meeting in Essen in April saw the launch of a new Wiki space (photo below), and since then we have had the final report from our consultants TFCC (Tom Fleming Cultural Consultancy). See also links below – then my comments will follow, but these pertain to the as-yet-to-be published Final Report. I think this will come out very soon – our next scheduled meetings are Amsterdam end of July, then Essen again in September.



On the Final report -- I think an important aspect of the report is the importance awarded to objective, impartial and wide-ranging research – this is important in two respects (i) research (particularly for arts organisations or policy consultancies) is so often 'information gathering' or the production of ‘evidence’, which, as we know, is required to inform or legitimate decision-making. With research on spillover, however, the ‘information’ is not simply ‘there’ to be gathered; it is embedded in forms of knowledge and practice that need to be explored. The old dichotomy of positive and exploratory research (or however you want to phrase it) is not useful here. Research will be more process-oriented, as along the way we need to discover possibilities, conditions of thinking, as well as practice, overturn assumptions on the nature of phenomenon like 'impacts' or 'benefits', and the definition of valid aims – at least, this is what we have found in aiming for a paradigm shift in our understanding of the socio-economic function of the cultural sector. I must admit, I have been getting impatient on how the project has taken almost two years just to define its aims and scope, but on reflection see that this time was needed – and the process has been as significant as what we have ended up with (right now two reports and a wiki page).


(ii) There are some institutional problems with spillover research. It contains what is outside the usual orbit of cultural research – where the people, the organisations, the products, the outcomes, are clearly delimited -- a spillover involves all, or a number of these, with uncertain outcomes. The centrality of free and impartial research is important given the complex ‘ontology’ of the spillover phenomenon – in its broadest sense. Certain forms of spillover can emerge spontaneously, and, at the time, largely undetected. We will need to re-define ‘evidence’, or the material for thought, or at least become more innovative in our understanding of how data can be used. In theory at least, there’s no reason why spillover is not ‘whirlpool-like’, with multiple spillover impacts generated by primary spillover effects or all kinds of compound reactions going on – in the age of virtual knowledge ‘Iconomies’ and post-Triple Helix model…[cf. Professor Gilson Schwartz’s recent Centre organised IAS-fellowship lectures] where new patterns of knowledge production are emerging, through mobile, innovation networks, commons, the ‘gamefication’ of collaboration: it is not so much the ‘effects’ we are looking for, but the way culture and CC actors can engage strategically in open innovations and generate value for and from spillover dynamics. As a research aim, we are starting to look for levels of spillover beyond ‘impacts’ – i.e. not just conceived as one object hitting another object, generating something obvious out of the impact -- or all those other externalities that happen as a matter of course. Spillover is moving more into a productive process outside of organizational entities, with layered dynamics and many possible points of value diffusion or dissemination…and various networked actors or agencies involved in various parts of the process. The underlying assumptions of our spillover concept is still rooted in the old incubator-investment-Silicon Valley, organisation-based, model?

One challenge we face is that our rationale for spillover research (and a large part of the motive of the main funding partners – Arts Council England, for starters) is that spillover can provide a broader route to justifying public investment in culture. In making an emphatic appeal for public investment, I think we need to firm-up our concept of ‘public investment’, particularly in relation to the ambiguous role of government in cultural policy as well as the different and shifting constitution of ‘public’ within each EU country – and in relation to EU level bodies. This is true in terms of the way ‘public’ funding is often calibrated, using partnership agreements, mixed or blended funding, and involving entrepreneurship.

Given, as the Final Report states, we are not rehearsing an argument for public funding per se, we also need to explore what we mean by ‘investment’, given that our understanding of a ‘return’ is more complex than the past policy language of benefits or value. For if spillover is as significant as we think it is – involving the broader milieu, habitus, social, industrial or organisational fields in which cultural activity does or can operate -- then we might find a tension opens up between the assumptions underpinning broad public funding and the specific aims of public investment for new or increased value. For it would make sense for public funders to progressively prioritise cultural organisations or CCIs that have spillover capabilities – or even fund spillover activity as a distinct genre of value production. If spillover becomes equally as important as the value generated by the core competencies of cultural organisations, then spillover could change how those competencies are configured or exercised.

What I like about the Final Report, and the project as it is developing, is the way we insist that the orientation and ‘framing’ of research is informed by the current requirements of both policy and strategy -- that there should be a consistent dialogue between the enterprise of research and the debates and thinking-processes of policy and its implications for strategy (i.e. policy interpreted at the level of the organization or practice). These areas should not be run together, or research be treated like the handmaiden of policy, but they both involve separate discourses, values and procedures.This could be problematic, or could be a needed level of critique on the way publicly-subsidised cultural organisations work.

I think we probably need a distinct and strong agenda for each of three quite different levels and their audiences – the research and academic communities, the policy community (bringing together national and EU policy thinkers, so often working apart), and the level of cultural managers, entrepreneurs and industry innovators (both inside and outside the creative industries). And one important dimension of spillover research is how it can broach the separation of the constituencies that represent the public ‘cultural sector’ and the ‘creative industries’. While, self-evidently, publicly subsidized institutions and commercial businesses operate in very different financial ecosystems, our concern is to find how reconstructed public policies can be instrumental and empowering to both. Up to now, urban policy (creative class, creative city) has been the means to integrate culture’s torn halves or define how arts and CCIs are bound up. However, this has reached its limits. Spillover could define a more effective framework for a fully ‘cultural’ economy.

Debt and the Public University


On the 11th June I was one of a Roundtable Discussion Panel, called ‘Debt and the Public University’ (2015, 16.00-17.30 International Manufacturing Centre). The Panel featured Oliver Davis (French), Lauren Tooker (Politics), Myka Tucker-Abramson (English), Jonathan Vickery (Cultural Policy Studies), Callum Cant and Hope Worsdale (Warwick Free Education). The occasion was IAS Visiting Fellow Joshua Clover – a notable scholar from University of California, Davis, award-winning poet, and radical activist. Clover is known for his theories of ‘crisis capitalism’, organizing resistance to student debt-loads in California, and his focusing on the significance of debt in reshaping the priorities and direction of higher education. This Panel was asked to tackle two questions – concerning our understanding of the nature of debt, and our understanding of how it is changing our profession (and by implication, the student—professor relationship).

My contribution, on reflection, contained some mawkish nostalgia for the days when student fees were ushered in by New Labour. Yes, it was the Left who introduced student fees. Blunkett, a one-time far-left local government activist, vowed they would not rise from the £1000 per annum limit at which he had set it (which, I remember, sounded hollow even at the time – even if, even then, the £1000 seemed more like a heavily subsided contribution rather than a costed fee). More importantly was how the Left rationalised this decision. I remember several lines of debate, not least references to how Blunkett’s ‘Methodism’ (as with Gordon Brown’s Scottish Calvinism later) introduced a component of personal responsibility to public expenditure (as a moral obligation of government) -- teaching youngsters the ‘true’ value of money’ was surely a good thing. Other, more political lines of argument, went something like (and I paraphrase) ‘plumbers and builders should not be subsidising the education of the middle classes’; another argument was similarly made on ‘class’ grounds, albeit policy-based: ‘Fees will be means-tested, in reality only paid by ‘middle class’ students, providing a raft of scholarships for all ‘working class’ students’. Fees could thus introduce a new financial mechanism of social equality. At the time, the former (ethical) argument and the latter (foiled) plan, were both subsequently inadequate to the shifts in both political thinking and public opinion that emerged. From this two things are obvious: that public policies (like fees for higher education) are rarely subject to thorough research and evaluation and a management of their consequences -- policy makers often have little imaginative anticipation of the lateral or unintended outcomes of their policies. Debt has generated social conditions that threaten to exceed the very orbit of public policies, and like a runaway train, are generating problems so pervasive they will cease to be categorised as ‘student debt’. And further – with reference to Joshua Clover’s various talks, lectures and statements (on You Tube, for example) – this exceeds the often mundane arguments between the current political ‘Left and Right’.

Clover’s thinking on this subject by-passed a lot of the chatter on the current affairs of subsidy, costs or particular HE policies. Debt, rather, has become a structural feature of global 'crisis capitalism'. Debt has become an industry, and so an embedded part of the economy. The agents of debt (between 2006-10) brought Western economies to their knees, degrading or wiping out generations of workers investments, labour pensions and the accumulated savings of ordinary citizens. Student fees – and with it the financial structures of higher education – are being systematically absorbed into this industry, and while banks and politicians alike tend to frame student fees in terms of ‘investment’ or even ‘credit, of which there is precious little policy research on the long term consequences and political implications. That debt is systematic and pervasive generates a new economic reality, to the extent that all parties, Left and Right, now accept it as a matter of fact, or an epiphenomenon of a global economy outside the political influence of any one government or even one global agency. And so what started with a perfectly reasonable attempt to introduce some moral responsibility into public finance ends up as some Frankenstein monster that, right now, doesn’t benefit anyone except the most dangerous actors on the economic stage.

July 10, 2015

What Has Cultural Policy Studies Got to Do with Supply Chain Strategy?


Photography by Alex Kharlamov

In 2014 I was awarded funding by the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning for an academic fellowship project. The Mediasmith Project was an experimental and particpatory series of workshops and events exploring transmedia and documentary making approaches to research. We borrowed from the expertise of filmmakers, producers, creative technologists and web developers to investigate how web-native and digital storytelling, digital media production, coding and other digital tools could inform the research process.

The final event, the Popathon x Mediasmith Project Storytelling Hack Jam took place in February 2015 but the learning has continued to inform new developments behind the scenes. Many of the methods we explored are about to be put to the test in a large-scale public research project about the public understanding of supply chains; MyChainReaction.

Professor Jan Godsell, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at WMG, was a keen participant in the Mediasmith Project workshops. During the first workshop one of the models of transmedia practice that I proposed was the creation and presentation of a film or digital asset as a seed or provocation for discussion and the creation of new narratives. By the time the third workshop had taken place (May 2014) Jan had already put a small production team together. They produced a short film about supply chains with the intention of provoking a wider public debate about them but why stop there?

Supply chains and public participation
Jan is intrigued that there is no shared definition of supply chains within academia, despite the fact that they are recognised as a discreet disciplinary field. She also suspects that awareness and understanding of supply chains amongst the wider public is relatively poor. "The issue of supply chains is of national importance. Supply chains are key in supporting economic growth, contributing to increasing both GDP and employment levels. Supply chains touch almost every aspect of our daily lives but many of us don’t know or realise this and we want to know why.” These considerations proved fertile ground for the development of a research impact project that could not only test these assumptions, but do so by inviting the public around the world to participate.

Interdisciplinary team
The research team consisting of Jan, Antony Karatzas, a research fellow at WMG, Rob Batterbee, IT Manager for Student Careers and Skills, and I submitted a proposal to the ESRC Impact Accelerator fund. The core of the project combines crowdsourcing, social networking and storytelling in a website designed to both generate research data and increase public engagement and understanding as more and more people take part. The site features an engaging example of a local supply chain, bringing to life the story of Stroud based ice cream maker Kate Lowe. Kate lives in a village where she is well known for producing delicious honeycomb ice cream. Her mother makes the honeycomb at home in Norfolk and posts it to Kate who then makes the ice cream in batches using other locally sourced ingredients. Kate’s ice cream is infamous at dinner parties and family gatherings but her ambitions are to develop a brand and sell her ice cream more widely. Website visitors are encouraged to reflect on their own participation in a supply chain and share their stories which are simultaneously pinned on the MyChainReaction map. In doing so they also answer a couple of simple questions about their knowledge of supply chains which will generate quantitative data for further research.

Transmedia integration
The website is, however, just one part of an integrated transmedia approach. We have also reserved funding for an artistic commission in which artists will be invited to respond to the themes of the project and the stories that emerge. Their work will be presented at the Global Supply Chain Debate, to be hosted at the International Digital Lab at the University of Warwick in November 2015.

Premature dissemination
Appealing for public participation adds a whole layer of marketing and communications activity usually reserved for the dissemination of research rather than the research process itself. We have debated the ethics of allowing research participants to see others' stories (but not responses to the research questions) at length, initially worrying that this may bias their participation. However, audience participation is an inherently social activity - participation depends on the motivation that stems from seeing what others have posted and the willingness to share. This decision making process impacted on the intrinsic design of the website. Should we prime the audience with a working example whilst restricting access to the crowd sourced stories to those who had registered and completed the research questions first? Or, should we make this content accessible to everyone in the hope that this will motivate others to take part? Creating such a ‘walled garden’ felt counter-intuitive and, given that the only criteria our research respondents need to satisfy are a) the possession of a valid email address and b) a story to tell, the risk of skewing the user generated content seemed to be outweighed by the social imperative to join others and take part.

'Infectious' research?
Supply chains are perhaps not the most accessible and people friendly subject so another challenge has been to find the right language by which to describe and pitch the project. Discussions of food security, provenance and sustainability have done much to highlight the importance of supply chains in relation to food and agriculture, hence our working example, but they remain less visible in other areas of public life. It’s also a question of semantics as we may well be referring to supply chains but in different terms or contexts which, we believe, have nothing to do with them e.g. the arts, education, medicine, etc. We also wanted to promote the cause and effect relationships that our interactions with supply chains produce so, after much head scratching, we arrived at the concept of a chain reaction. This gave us a unique hashtag and a call to action (with a little help from Diana Ross and RCA Records); ‘Get in the middle of a chain reaction.’ It has even inspired a spoof sing-a-along video, produced by students on the MA in Creative and Media Enterprises, designed to raise a smile and promote the project.

Ninety-five Not Out
We are acutely aware of the ambition and novelty of our approach. So far we have ninety-five stories and counting. If you are reading this why not add one more to the #MyChainReaction map?

May 16, 2015

The Future of Interdisciplinary Research – the IAS at the Shard

Warwick staff members with connections to the Warwick Institute of Advanced Study [IAS] were invited to this half-day symposium on Friday 15th May, held in the Warwick space at the spectacular Shard building in London Bridge. The Shard is becoming a showcase for the highest levels of Warwick teaching and research (and, I must say, whose rates for room rental are several stratospheres above any Humanities budget I have ever seen). This half-day event was, in part, a symposium that celebrated the first eight years of the IAS, and which gathered an audience to hear about recently funded projects in interdisciplinary research, particularly from younger scholars at Warwick (mostly IAS post-doc Fellows). With luminaries like Sir George Cox present, as well as notable interdisciplinary scholars from other universities, the ensuing Q&A and discussion was fairly substantial and the event well-worth attending (not least the lunch – what one would expect at a place like the Shard. I'm definitely going back).

IAS Event 15th May

What is the role of an IAS? It exists to promote interdisciplinarity, and also cultivate higher levels of exchange where regular faculty and departmental contexts are not effective. Considering the worldwide intellectual impact of the famous Princeton University Institute for Advanced Study (which I visited briefly when on a week’s residency at the Princeton Centre for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies in 2006 and again in 2008), the aims of the IAS project are surely compelling. But why is 'interdisciplinarity' still at issue? As Provost Professor Stuart Croft said in his introduction, there is something slightly anachronistic about the very term. We have, for decades, been discussing cross-disciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdiscilinarity and a whole range of other configurations, so why is 'interdisciplinarity' still at issue? And as Michael Hatt (Art History) said to me the day before the event, as we waited for his taxi to the rail station: the major question facing us is surely, ‘what is disciplinarity’ – what was it, ever, particularly in the Humanities?

I was, as an undergrad through the first half of the 1990s, repeatedly told by professors, and with some conviction, that within a decade all disciplinary boundaries (and their Victorian obsession with the individualist book and article-formats of presenting and delivering research) would have dissolved. This seemingly water-tight forecast – made self-evident by the authoritative writings of a generation of anti-foundationalist anti-Humanists from Habermas to Rorty, Foucault to Derrida, to Jameson and Eagleton, Lyotard to Rancière – was, at the time, indisputable. And how it deceived an entire generation of undergraduates. Their introduction to the world of research started with an ethical obligation to ‘critique the Canon’ (assuming they knew what the Canon was, which most didn’t) and a new rule of multi-perspectival interdisciplinary ‘approaches’ to everything -- to life and the meaning of the universe, and especially your undergrad essays, which in practice meant a kind of low-intensity cultural studies (a cod sociology without particular regard for methods). As for me, I feel grateful for catching the last days of some marginalised Germanic, right of centre, traditionalists. Otherwise -- your right -- I feel conned.

Well, not exactly; more accurately, I feel intrigued and fascinating in equal measure as I look back at the decades in which interdisciplinarity was a 'politics' of the institutional mediation of knowledge-construction, stimulated by the emergence of new discourses in social epistemology and sociology of knowledge, which in turn had an impact on the professors that taught me critical theory in my postgrad days. Why does intellectual history takes the form it does? It was during these postgrad days that Harvard published Randall Collins’s monumental The Sociology of Philosophies, which I still find utterly fascinating for just these reasons.

The IAS symposium opened with four statements from a panel of special guests, including Pete Churchill of the Joint Research Centre of the European Union, Rick Rylance of the AHRC and Jane Elliot of the ESRC, all largely celebrating the university sector’s collective advance in interdisciplinary research. And yet, while the symposium remained good natured and calm, the questions and comments that followed were not so taken by this institutionalised optimism (Oliver Bennett should have been present to throw some light on this).

Indeed: look at the rise of the natural sciences in the last 15 years, and the re-validation of the naturalism and empiricism so torn apart by critical theory between 1940 and 1980. Look at the unhindered rise of neo-positivism and the supremacy of ‘data’ and ‘evidence’ in defining ‘truth’. Indeed, in my undergrad days, any student naively using the words ‘truth’, ‘fact’ or ‘evidence’ would be subject to the scorn of the class, an immediate target for at least three angry quotations by the tutor from Nietzsche’s Gay Science, and without any possible retort of prejudice, marked down on the next essay.

How has neo-positivism (for Adorno, the epistemological basis of fascism) returned with a vengeance, and has become the modus operandi of the ‘knowledge society’? It is used by university managers as a template for all academic research, evaluation and management; for admissions policies, appointment policies, subject and faculty divisions of the University system, not least the REF, HEFCE and the funding agencies. The panel didn’t so effectively respond to some of these critical issues. Yet the panel did indeed offer some apposite insights and observations. Rick Rylance celebrated how the one recurring theme right now among policy wonks in Whitehall is interdisciplinarity, and in turn this offers a ‘huge’ opportunity for the academy (given how Whitehall is the last place in which models of interdisciplinarity will, or could, be innovated). However, here I could not help but think of the Whitehall revolution in 1998 and New Labour’s 'joined up policy making' and post-Major ‘anti-departmentalism’: an eternal return of the same, to (mis)quote Neitzsche. Rylance was optimistic that the sheer demands of the ‘knowledge economy’ have forced Whitehall to invest in interdisciplinarity, and in turn, research funding agencies will become more interconnected. We are truly entering a new age of the reengineering of the funding infrastructure for research, with glorious global horizons appearing in the process.

Inspiration indeed. As he noted himself, there remains a huge resistance to interdisciplinary – a lack of investment among individual academics for the necessary patterns intellectual interaction, new project formations or dynamic group work models and so on. However, it became clear to me that the disciplines as traditionally conceived were not, on the whole, regarded as a ‘problem’ or in any way bound up in the conditions for this ‘resistance’ to interdisciplinarity. For most of this event, the message being put out was that we must remain concerned for the essential and unashamed role of ‘disciplines’ – for intellectual training, academic skills, and the definition of research questions and problems. Disciplinarity is presupposed by interdisciplinarity, and so should remain the bedrock of academic life. Yet – and this was the challenge, obviating the potential conservatism such a position might entail – all disciplinarity should be perpetually subject to interdisciplinarity. All disciplines must be perpetually open to the challenges, innovations, interpretations and historicisation of their research questions and problems, and maintain a cognisance of a range of possible interpretations and outcomes. Yet, surely, said a colleague from CIM, we need institutional frameworks that facilitate this. The scenarios celebrated by the panel reflects a sector that currently favours ‘smooth’ innovations, not the kinds of friction and rapid mobility of real interdisciplinarity, which are really needed for substantial transformation. For this, universities should encourage multiple ‘joint’ appointments – where academics belong to two or more institutions (he remains with Columbia, but currently here in CIM). Material conditions and the problem of labour, indeed.

Another interesting viewpoint emerged from panel member and media don, Prof. Sarah Churchwell (UEA), who called for an interdisciplinarity of Intellectual Pluralism. This would necessitate our working at a critical ‘generalism’ and an acceptance of the generalist, not just specialists. In this line of thinking, we need to find ways of formulating particular research questions in terms ‘big enough’ to solicit a response from a range of disciplines across faculties. She cited Homi Bhabha’s recent seminar series at Harvard on the classical theme of ‘The Good Life’, inviting scholars from all disciplines to contribute. Churchwell’s contribution to the debate – if I am accurate here -- followed her assertion that the ‘inter’ dimension of interdisciplinarity challenges academics to learn how to gather and communicate with a ‘public’. This would entail, it seems, leaving behind the self-obsessed and convoluted academic sub-cultures of interdisciplinarity (the 1990s), and forge a more concentrated attention to the interrelations, interconnections and interactions of knowledge construction across the current institutional landscape. I would concur with another of her observations, that for too long, the social and intellectual processes of knowledge construction have been framed by individual careers and institutional elites. So apart from celebrating the IAS and its welcome support for interdisciplinary research, the general mood at this IAS event, among attendees at least, was one of a general scepticism. This scepticism, palpable in the discussion periods, were directed at the way the academy is shaped by a multitude of semi-concealed forces, only some of which are genuinely concerned with the formation of knowledge.

So, the ‘future’ of interdisciplinarity? We are struggling to understand its past.

May 12, 2015

Mike van Graan: Institute of Advanced Study Visiting Fellow

This last week, I was organsing seven events around special guest Mike van Graan. The Warwick Global Research Priority in International Development (GRP-ID), in response to my research and the new MA in Arts, Enterprise and Development, made this year's annual research theme ‘Cultural Economies and Cultural Activism’. Mike van Graan is a Warwick Institute of Advanced Study Visiting Fellow, and the IAS program funding made this itinerary possible, not forgetting the support of the GRP-ID – the leads, Prof. Shirin Rai (Dept. Politics) and Prof Ann Stewart (School of Law), and GRP-ID Coordinator Dr Rajnaara Akhtar. My PhD students Tomi Oladepo and Gabi Ferdinand, were similarly indispensible.


Mike van Graan is the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute and is the former Secretary General of the Arterial Network, a continent-wide network engaged in the African creative sector. He currently serves as a UNESCO Technical Expert on the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. He runs his own consultancy and has played numerous roles in South Africa’s developing cultural sector. His plays include Die Generaal (The Generaal), winner of the Fleur du Cap Best New Script Award 2008; Brothers in Blood, a Market Theatre production that won the Naledi Theatre Award for Best New Play 2009, Lago’s Last Dance which premiered on the Main Programme at the National Arts Festival and was nominated in the Fleur du Cap Best New Script category, 2009; and many others, including Green Man Flashing (2004), which our students here at Warwick have recently engaged with. Last year some of us saw the production of his play Rainbow Scars, which was programmed as part of the Afrovibes Festival, performed in Birmingham and London. In 2013 Mike van Graan was appointed as the first Festival Playwright at the National Arts Festival in South Africa. Four of his works, including a new piece, Writer's Block, were showcased at the Festival.

I know Mike as a valued member of Global Cultural Economy Network, a group of researchers, entrepreneurs and consultants, many independent UNESCO advisors who are attempting to develop a new paradigm of cultural thinking for policy – local, national and global.

A full report will be written of the week of events, so here I will just summarise the events and their outcomes.

The week started with a seminar for early career researchers and PhD students: ‘Researching Contemporary Culture in Africa’. It, moreover, attracted some students from outside Warwick: Adeolu Adesanya from Leicester University gave a talk on researching business on the informal economy of the streets of Lagos (Nigeria). He was one of four students presenting in this morning-long seminar, which opened with Mike van Graan’s detailed and informative lecture on the practicalities and methodologies necessary for cultural research in Africa. This was followes by lunch, where the staff members, two of the PhD students, along with Visiting Fellow from China, Dr Xiao Bo, convened as the panel of judges on the Warwick GRP-ID Annual Photography Competition. From a short list of twelve, each of which were exhibited beforehand, we chose three winners – announced by me at the Wednesday evening public event where Mike van Graan presented the winner with prize. Before that, however, we held a full ‘videod’ ‘Interview with Mike van Graan’, where Dr Yvette Hutchison (a South African and expert in African theatre) and I interviewed Mike to an open audience. He discussed his career, mission, values and pioneering cultural work across the African continent.

On the Wednesday, Mike delivered The Annual Public Lecture in International Development, and attracting a wide public and campus audience. This event is important, (last year was the UK Givernment minister for ID: Rt Hon Justine Greening), it serves as a showcase for the GRP-ID research and our central concerns for critical thinking, humanities research, gender and rights, and a radical democracy approach to development. Mike was perfect for this occasion, as he presented the work of the AFAI in the context of the promotion of rights, democracy and diversity in post-Aparthied South Africa. His talk will hopefully form the basis of a Special Issue I will edit of the Journal of Law, Social Justice and Global Development.

On Thursday morning we gathered for an exploratory seminar, called ‘Research Opportunities in Africa’. This meeting was open to potential collaborators at Warwick (specifically the GRP network) and saw Mike discussing the possibility of a strategic partnership with the African Arts Institute. We decided to collaborate on (i) student internships and PhD residency; (ii) funded projects focussing on local cultural development in Africa in the context of global cultural policies (details forthcoming). This last subject was the theme of Mike’s address to the fellows of the IAS the following day. His address was titled, 'Creative Economies and Cultural Activism in contemporary Africa', where framed by the South Africa’s White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage (the first published in 1996, now revised), he explained how the political compromises of the government made cultural policy development fraught with contradictions.

Friday was our last, if intensive, day. The morning seminar was open to all University students but centrally featured students on my masters module ‘Culture and Social Innovation’ talking about our plans for a new international cultural festival in Coventry. The project is potentially huge, but in need of some advice and experience from the cultural sector veteran that Mike is. My role in this festival is to construct a 5-year strategic plan, (as well as mobilise the students), and aims within five years to be able to attract artists and musicians from all over the developing world.

After an agreeable lunch, the highlight of the week was the Friday afternoon ‘Global Cultural Economy Roundtable’. Apart from Mike, a special guest speaker was the UNESCO Chair in Cultural PoIicy for Germany, Professor Wolfgang Schneider. It also featured short position papers on the subject of culture as a resource for development: these were by Shane Homan (Monash), Anna Langdell (British Council), Tom Fleming (TFCC, London), Haili Ma (China Centre, Chester University) and my old PhD student Lorraine Lim (now Birkbeck College London). Following Mike’s introductory paper I will summarise the content of this debate as follows: First, we discussed how the concept of ‘culture’ can shift and change complexion depending on its role in policy discourse: so many assumptions that reinforce the semantics of culture are virtually meaningless in Africa. Second, cultural discourses are not merely intellectual, but embody the power and interests of institutions and agents of governance (including closed professional networks of elites); cultural discourse has evolved, whereby it animates national and international markets in various ways in relation to the production of cultural knowledge, creative goods and services. Third, there may seem like there exists a causal line from cultural discourse and cultural industries, but this is not so straightforward, and even where cultural discourse has relevance beyond a government signatory, it has to be understood, interpreted and implemented in local conditions, which, at least accross Africa, vary enormously. Fourth: global structural economic inequities and the lack of public infrastructure for culture in Africa, create a state of structutral dependency, where organisations, artists, agencies, and so on, work within the requirements and regulatory principles of their international funder and not local recipients or participants. With this state of affairs comes a passive acceptance of, rather than rigorous engagement with, cultural discourse and its industries. Lastly, the prevailing and dominant cultural discourses – as benign as they seem with their championing of rights and diversity – are embedded with world-views and embodied with assumptions biased in favour of certain Western paradigms. They cannot simply be taken as unequivocally constructive.

April 28, 2015

Final Report meeting: Creative and Cultural Spillover Effects in Dortmund

Culture and creative industries and not just organisations and networks of individuals who generate certain kinds of potentially influential or enjoyable products/services. They involve social processes and generate cultural change, transmit knowledge, devise new forms of agency, communication and productivity, and so on. And this is not necessarily a good thing: in cities, so-called gentrification can be facilitated by spillover effects. Anyway, this is the (expansive) subject of the small research group I am a part of – and on Monday I attended the final ‘preliminary evidence’ meeting of this group, call it the European Spillover Effects research group. The main funding partners of this preliminary stage are European Centre for Creative Economy (Ruhr region, Germany), Arts Council England, Arts Council Ireland, European Cultural Foundation and a few other sleeping partners (i.e. who were not there), and 19 people turned up to meet in this design studio space in Dortmund (ecce’s city). This was the final and important meeting, where we were presented with the final report (by Tom Fleming Cultural Consultancy, who did all the hard work), and then decided how this would form the basis of a large research project. Last week, in fact, the EU URBact project on ‘Creative Spillover’ delivered its final report in Birmingham. We will, I hope, do something different.


The concept of ‘spillover’ has a complicated history, involving a broad range of subjects from the geo-politics of industrial development in European integration to the impact of media on social behaviour, to the more recent ‘effects’ of creative and cultural industries policy and practice. A lot of recent interest in spillover has been from the ‘cities’ fraternity, and so an extension of the kinds of past urban policy interest in clustering, value chains, the externalities of innovation-based industries, and the regeneration impacts of new start-ups involving all of the above. One issue that emerged was that our preliminary studies – involving my paper published by ecce (below) – were broad and exploratory and needed now to become focussed, driven with a specific agenda. (i.e. now that the European Commission has articulated interest in spillover, a number of other major research groups are emerging in the field). One aspect that distinguishes us, owing partly to Richard Russell’s leadership (Arts Council England), is the ‘public’ dimension of spillover – how can we identify a value chain trajectory for public investment? How can we trace the dynamic function of investment through policies for creative and cultural industries to actors or agencies, places or markets, and then the big contexts of sustainable societies and economies? What is the ‘public’ dimension of the innovation industries or the start up businesses whose identity and social function we so often reduce to goods/services, employment, revenues and taxes. However, in discussing this the issue of ‘place’ became problematic (given how spillover can happen a long way from immediate sites of production or location).

For me, delimiting the project needs to be done in response to specific EU policy fields – not just the obvious DG Urban then Culture, but perhaps to Territorial integration & cohesion, Citizenship/integration (multiculturalism), and even Foreign Relations and the Development Aid field, given how these kinds of dynamics could be crucial to small economies around the world trying to develop. Second, personally, I am interested in how ‘public’ investment could create the kinds of spaces, movements and organisations whose impact collapses the antagonism between the seemingly necessary binaries of private/public, commercial/arts, goods/services, social/cultural. But we first need to work through the ‘evidence library’ that the project has generated, and Tom Fleming’s initial analysis, and consider if we have the huge aspirations (spare time, energy, naivety..) for an EU funding bid.



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